- Adrian Collins –
Story 3 of The Mortiurge
Heart pounding in his ears like a forge hammer, Thale Rook shoved Radacast down another stairwell and launched himself into the dark after the criminal Overboss. He choked on stale air with ragged breaths as his legs powered him downwards, rotting step after rotting step, decrepit floor after decrepit floor. Doors whirred past him, the stab of his finger-torch highlighting numbers stencil-sprayed in black paint to mark each level of the abandoned hab-block Radacast and her immense organisation had been using as a headquarters until the adrenaline soaked minutes ago, when the monsters had attacked, and Thale had failed to assassinate his mark.
701… 700… 699… 698… How did they get here? How did they get into Lerrunhive?
Radacast’s wiry build frantically ran and tripped and tumbled down the stairs before her, a lean hand running along a honeycombed, moss-coated and eaten handrail. The little Overboss was covered in the red remains of the leaders of her organisation, their lifeblood coating her expensive suit, giving testament to the slaughter they had both just escaped.
Thale could feel the weight of his body armour and bullet-mail lined greatcoat upon his shoulders, soaking through with sweat and fear. His heart began to pound all the faster as he heard their chittering come louder behind him, chitinous claws scraping against rotten rockcrete. Sweet Emperor, how did they get here?
“What are they?” huffed Radacast breathlessly, eyes a moment ago hard and murderous now like the frightened child looking to a parent for protection.
Thale shook his head, flashes of needle teeth, pink-purple skin, vicious bone-claws, and soulless black eyes covered in human blood spurring his fear and his body to ever-greater lengths.
Radacast spared another glance back at him when he didn’t answer. “You’re the bloody Arbite! You’re the bloody assassin! Tell me what they are! You must –“
“Shut up and run,” grunted Thale.
He chanced a look over his shoulder, back into the darkness of the stairwell above him. There were only the stairs behind him; and the promise of a horrible death. He looked back at the slim chance of survival before him, one skinny criminal he’d been sent to assassinate, and seven hundred flights of stairs.
Something screeched, shrill and alien, and set Thale’s hackles up. He looked over his shoulder again, cold fear gripping his guts. The edge of the step beneath his boot crumbled. Thale tripped, overbalanced, and fell. Radacast heard the tumble, and moved out of the way, letting Thale hammer into the ground at the corner, the breath exploding from his lungs.
Thale rolled on to his back, wheezing and coughing, groaning with pain, and made to get up. He opened his eyes just in time to see Radacast fly past, barely sparing him a glance on her way as she slammed a knee into Thale and knocked the young Arbite back to the ground. Thale didn’t waste his breath shouting at her, instead shoving his hands beneath him to launch himself back up. The chittering and scratching was drawing closer and closer, perhaps only a floor behind him.
Thale launched himself down and around the next corner, his body crying out with a hundred scrapes, bumps and bruises.
695… 694… 693… 692…
As he passed the six-hundred and ninety-first floor, Thale caught up to Radacast, the little Overboss’ feet moving in a swiftly tiring blur beneath her. There you are, you little bastard.
Sweat dripped from Thale’s eyebrows and nose, running down his cheeks and into his stubble, stinging his eyes all the while. It took all of his Arbites-trained restraint not to pull his Trantor from its holster and blow a fist-sized hole through the Overboss, just to satisfy his spite. And do the job Lerrunhive’s tax-contributors pay me for.
685… 684… 683… 682…
Thale shoved and pushed Radacast harder and harder, not wanting the woman behind him, but the little criminal hadn’t trained like Thale had: her form wasn’t covered in hard muscle, her lungs weren’t clear of the lho-stick rot, nor were her survival instincts honed to a razor edge. Radacast blubbered and cried as she stumbled more than ran, her sobs echoing in Thale’s ears like a siren, drawing the foe to them. A beast rounded the corner right behind Thale, bone-claws scrabbling against the floor for purchase before slamming into the opposite wall. Thale sighted his next foot-fall, drew his .57 Trantor, twisted at the waist, and pulled the trigger.
The muzzle flare lit the stairwell a brilliant yellow. A wide maw lined with needle teeth had opened up right behind him, long lashing tongue reaching out for him, fetid breath steaming out. The creature was flung back by the .57 round, the ichor-splattered wall behind visible for a brief moment through the hole drilled through the back of its head. Thale turned back before his next foot landed.
Radacast was there, staring dumbly, mouth open mid-cry of alarm. Thale cannoned into her and sent both of them sprawling to the ground. There was an audible crack, and then the Overboss started screaming. Thale looked up and grimaced a moment as he saw the jagged bone jutting from Radacast’s wrist. The sounds of further pursuit followed him, growing ever louder by the moment.
He looked around desperately, even if he ditched Radacast, he wasn’t going to make it down many more floors before they caught him. He didn’t have an everlasting supply of ammo and he didn’t fancy his chances in hand-to-hand with one of those xeno monsters. He looked back to Radacast. The little Overboss had gone bone-white and had started shaking, vomit-speckled drool spilling from the side of her lips, eyes wide open with shock and chest hammering up and down with ragged breaths.
Emperor bloody save me…
Thale spied the door. 681. There was the slightest gap – perhaps only a few millimetres, but there nonetheless – between the door and the frame where someone, probably two centuries before, hadn’t closed the door properly. Thale ripped off his jacked and threw it down the stairwell, watching for a few seconds until it landed heavily on the rail a few floors down. Let them track like dogs, like the others. Track like dogs, you bastards. Track like dogs. Reaching out and grabbing a handful of Radacast’s hair, he launched both of them through the door and eased it shut behind him, twisting off his finger-torch to plunge them into absolute darkness.
Their breaths ringing out loud into the pitch-black room, Thale forced his hand over the whimpering Overboss’ mouth and sat them both down against a sagging wall. There they sat in silence for only a few short moments until the silence was shattered on the other side of the door by the sounds of high-pitched chittering and scrabbling. The wall of noise filled the room and Thale could feel Radacast’s terror in the thin, quailing limbs, and the quickly dampening ground beneath them.
The sounds began to recede as the tide of alien flesh made its way down and away from their position. Thale removed his hand for a moment, allowing Radacast a breath and a groan, before clapping it back over her mouth as a few more of the creatures ran past, and then the more familiar sounds of human footfalls followed. Thale closed his eyes, praying inwardly to the Emperor that they would not hear the heart pounding in his chest.
Soon enough, they were gone also. Thale let out a long breath and pulled his hand away from Radacast’s mouth. The little woman had the good sense to keep her mouth shut this time. Thale pushed himself to his feet, gun out in front of him, squinting hard to see into the dark. The blackness was like a solid wall, pressed against his face, even darker than the stairwell. He pushed his hearing to the limit, whipping his gun to face even the hint of a sound. The old building creaked and groaned, ancient load-bearing girders bending under the weight of the hive at a glacial pace.
Thale took a deep breath, reaching up to the undercarriage of his Trantor and resting his thumb against the on-button. He squinted harder as he thought he saw a cluster of small dots before him, head high and about a billionth of a shade less than the darkness around him. He squinted harder and harder, his eyes beginning to burn with effort and his lungs screaming for air.
Then there was a shuffle. Ever so slight.
“Did you – “ Radacast’s pained whisper was like a thunderclap.
Something chittered. Thale flicked on his light to blinding brilliance. He stopped himself just short of blowing a skinny teen’s head from his shoulders. Damn near **** himself, too. The teen just stood there and stared at him, blankly, eyes silvery in the darkness, gang tatts covering his face dark-inked and angry. He didn’t cringe from the light, nor from the Trantor.
Thale played the finger-torch left and right and saw that the teen wasn’t alone. There were more of them, a myriad of hiver tatts covering their faces. There were others without the markings: men, women, boys, and girls. All of them stood there, staring at him with the same silvery eyes.
Thale held his ground before them, keeping his gun up.
The skinny teen took a step forwards, his head twitching.
“Stay where you are, kid,” hissed Thale.
The skinny teen took another step, a smile making its way over his face.
Thale heard another chitter. His gun snapped over to paint at a young girl. Did she -?
The skinny youth’s lower jaw split in half to reveal a forest of teeth and a lashing tongue. Radacast screamed. The Trantor unleashed its fury. The freak’s head detonated, as did the hulking man behind him. The rest charged. All the while Radacast screamed.
Thale got off six devastating shots before the first creature got to him. Bodies flew through the air, previously hidden alien limbs lashing out in their death throes as the .57 rounds carved fist-sized gouges through the attack. Then, they were on him.
In the staccato light of his finger-torch he twisted out of the way of a lancing claw and knife-punched a woman in the throat. A claw erupted from the darkness and he ducked, feeling something take a snick out of the back of his head. A mouth, wide and full of barbed tentacles almost took his nose. He got his elbow up into the bastard’s throat, put a slug through a kid that ran at him from the side, and then holed the one trying to bite his face off. Thale kicked out, sending the man flying back into the pack behind him.
Hands, swift and sure with years of training hard-wired into them, hit the mag-release while pulling a fresh clip from his belt to slam into the pistol grip. He got off three more booming shots before they were on him again.
Something ripped his shoulder. He caught a glimpse of a woman flying through the air at him before he snapped out a punch and floored her. Talons raked over his forearm as he blocked a strike before someone kneed or punched him in the guts, smashing the air from his lungs. He stumbled back, tripping on a body before getting off two more rounds and clearing a bit of space.
A kid charged forwards. Thale hesitated a moment instinctively. He was probably no more than four or five. If it wasn’t for the silver eyes and long, barbed tail, the pale-skinned, blond kid would have looked just like a few hundred million other boys in the streets and stacks of Lerrunhive. Poor kid, never had a chance. Thale obliterated him from the sternum up with a single round. Then, there was silence but for his own breathing.
He flicked the torch over his own body. He was scratched and carved, torn and bruised, but he was alive and combat effective. He splayed the torch over the corpses, looking for signs of life. There was naught but bodies before him. He swung the torch back to look for Radacast. The little Overboss was unconscious.
The head of the woman Thale had punched in the face was in her lap, her face blue, Radacast’s snapped limb dangled around her throat like a garrotte. Tough little bastard.
Thale walked over to her and reached down. Radacast opened her eyes. Thale offered her a weak smile. “C’mon, we’re not out of this yet.”
Something slammed into the door. Chittering exploded from the stairwell and a long, black claw lanced through the sheet steel like it was made from paper.
“C’mon!” shouted Thale, wrenching the Overboss up and over his shoulders in a Guardsman’s carry, before running.
Radacast cried out once as Thale ran, before going limp again with a long, sickening groan. Thale held the Trantor out in front, lighting the way down a long corridor, the sound of the door crumpling to the chittering cries of the beasts behind echoing after them. Thale looked desperately around as he ran, searching for an exit or a safe-haven.
He thought back to the scant resistance the door had shown to the black claw but a moment before. Bugger the safe-haven. We gotta get out.
Looking around, and not where he was going, Thale suddenly found himself bereft of floor. His shoulder collected the rusted, rotten edge of the massive hole on the way down. Radacast flew over his head, and then past him on the way down, and a moment later Thale found himself on his back, staring up at a gaping dark maw in the ceiling, desperately trying to get his breath and scrabbling around for his gun, Radacast unconscious beneath him.
Thale sat up painfully, patting Radacast to make sure she was alive. The Overboss groaned quietly.
“Knew I brought you along for a reason,” grunted Thale as put his hand over the torch beam to stifle it.
Radacast didn’t respond. Thale made to grab her, but stopped, looking back up at the ceiling, and then once more down at his quarry, his hand stopping just short. Radacast’s eyes began to flicker open. Thale waited for them to open and smiled coldly.
Radacast was a sharp woman. “Arbite! Don’t you leave me here, you bastard!” she hissed as loud as she dared.
Thale put his hand to his ear as the screeching and scrabbling of their pursuers came louder and louder. Radacast’s eyes widened in terror.
“Arbite! I swear by the Emperor’s light I’ll –“
Thale rounded a corner, flicked off his light and plunged the world into darkness.
I am the Mortiurge. I am Lerrunhive’s dark shadow.
He heard Radacast’s plea fade into nothingness as he left her for the teeth and claws.
* * *
Radacast’s mind was a whirl of agony and panic. How could that bastard just fraggin’ leave me here?
“Arbite!” hissed Radacast into the pitch black.
There was a mess of chitters and scratches from above and then absolute silence.
Radacast held her breath, her heart thundering in her chest, the silence roaring in her ears. Something made a noise and some dust and grit floated down from above to settle on her face. Her nose itched, somehow overwhelming the roaring pain of the snapped limb she’d used to strangle the freak minutes before.
Radacast could feel something watching her, as if the darkness was made of malevolent eyes, staring at her with the relish of a gutterwurm squirming towards a legless rat. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t breathe. The darkness and silence weighed down upon her as if the untold tonnage of the entirety of Lerrunhive sat upon her chest. Her nose twitched; a horrible sensation running into her sinuses and into the roof of her mouth.
Her nose scrunched up, breathless lungs rebelling against her, desperately trying to pull air in. Radacast pressed her tongue into her teeth and clamped her jaw so hard she thought her bones might crack.
It was no good.
She made a sound.
A chorus of chittering and movement broke out above.
Something landed on the ground right in front of her and Radacast pissed herself, not for the first time that night.
Something landed on top of that thing and her world erupted into a cacophony of screeches and whines. Then a light stabbed out to reveal a pile of swirling and lashing, purple-pink flesh, teeth, claws, and beady black eyes not a metre before her. A gun roared. One of the beasts, huge from Radacast’s perspective upon the floor, was punched from its clawed feet. One of its arms tumbled to the ground, the separated limb spraying her in warm, viscous xenos lifeblood. Holding her ruined limb in her lap, Radacast scrambled backwards as another shot deafeningly clapped like a thunderbolt and bored a hole through the second monster. The light whipped up and another nightmarish creature was dead before it hit the ground as the Arbite’s handcannon wreaked a bloody tally.
Radacast kept scrambling back on her one good arm. The light whipped back down, just in time to blow the head off the last creature mid-flight on its way to eviscerating her. Radacast screamed as the body slammed into her, the weight crushing her and bending her forearm back the other way. She screamed and screamed for what seemed an eternity, ichor from the previously blown-off limb pooling in her mouth, filling her senses with an alien stench that made her gag and vomit.
A hand clamped over her mouth. She screamed into it for a while, but then stopped as the Arbite’s face came into view, a finger over his lips. Radacast summoned all of her strength, and stopped herself, giving the bastard above him a curt nod. The Arbite removed his hand. From above, then there was silence once again.
The Arbite pulled the dead alien off of her with considerable effort, his young face contorting as he pulled at the grotesque limbs of the beast. Through a haze of agony and the clouded stench of dead monster mixed with her own vomit, Radacast studied that face, putting every line, angle, scar, colour, and nuance to memory. As the alien slumped off her, and she managed to sit up, the Overboss watched the Arbite quickly clear the adjoining rooms.
The man was lean, taut, not overly muscled, fluid in his movements, tight with his form. Everything about him screamed Guard. But he was too young to have done his tour, survived, and been allowed to settle or leave the Imperium’s meat-grinding crusades. Perhaps he’s had a Guard tutor? She wondered. It’s going to be hard to kill you, Arbite. But I shall find your weaknesses, I shall find the cracks in your armour, and I shall revel in slipping my scalpels through your plate and into your flesh.
She tried to stand, but failed. The Arbite came back in, motioning her to follow. Radacast scowled and tried to get up again. Her legs just did not have the strength. She huffed a breath and held out her hand. But first, you’re going to have to get me out of here. Then I’ll kill you. To say thanks, maybe I’ll let you keep your balls.
The Arbite helped her up, his grip like an iron vice. Radacast held on to the wall as a wave of vertigo threatened to send her tumbling back to the ground. She was grateful when the Arbite put an arm around her shoulders and helped her get steady, but made an effort to shove his hand away when she felt like she could stay upright. The Arbite grinned humourlessly, and motioned her on ahead with the torch on the bottom of that ridiculously powerful handcannon. That one’s going on my trophy rack, right beside that handsome head of yours, my helpful young Arbite. I’m going to enjoy stuffing and preserving you.
Radacast forced her leaden legs to move, step by agonising step, into the darkness, the Arbite always on her heels. She peered into the dark doors that sat ajar, startling at nothing, her nerves taking their damned time to readjust. With only silence behind them, she finally had a moment to get her head in order, doing her best to think about anything but the torturous throbbing of her arm. She searched the walls desperately, trying to get her bearing.
“What’re you looking for?” whispered the Arbite.
Radacast made to wave him to silence, forgetting her broken limb. She bit down of a cry of agony. The Arbite reached out and stopped her, turning her around to face him.
“Keep quiet. This is going to hurt.”
Radacast put her free hand over her mouth and closed her eyes. I’ll remember this. You’re groxmeat –
Her world exploded into white pain as the Arbite forced the limb across her belly and then pulled her shirt up to wrap it tight against her form. Oh yes, I’m going to love flaying the skin from your face.
“You right?” asked the Arbite.
Radacast opened her eyes a slit, the blurry face of the youth before her filling her vision.
“Fine,” she grunted through gritted teeth.
“Then come on. You’re slowing me down,” said the Arbite, giving her a shove forwards.
Radacast stumbled, before righting herself. She glared back over her shoulder, sure she’d heard the Arbite chuckle. The man glared right back, for a brief moment, before his dark eyes darted over her shoulder. The Arbite nodded forwards with a grunt.
The Overboss looked back where she was going, and saw what the Arbite had seen: a floor plan.
It only took Radacast a moment to spy their way out: a service elevator, at the end of the corridor. It’d need a manual crank to power it. She looked at the Arbite. Good thing I brought some muscle. Not as stupid as my usual employees, but he’ll do. She grinned to herself.
“This way, Arbite,” she said.
The Arbite squinted at her for a moment. Put off by his sudden loss of Alpha-male status, no doubt.
The Arbite grunted and shoved her forwards with the nose of the handcannon. I rescind my offer to keep your balls, herein.
It took them a short while to get to the elevator. Radacast walked into it and sat down, releasing a long breath and cuddling her arm. Thale walked in beside her, pressing the lobby button with increasing frustration and force, to no effect.
Radacast reached out with her ruined leather shoe and kicked the man in the shin. The gun was in her face in the blink of an eye.
“Idiot,” snarled Radacast, pushing the torch out of her eyes. “It’s a service elevator. It’s powered by crank in case of blackout.”
The Arbite’s jaw clenched. “Fine. Where is it?”
Radacast pointed to a panel in the wall a few metres away.
The Arbite glared at her a moment, but the distant sound of a door shattering and the pounding of feet and scratching of claws set him off. With a rather prodigious show of strength, the Arbite tore the panel door clear from the wall, wrenched out the lever, and snapped it into place. He began cranking furiously, the screeching of unoiled mechanisms like a wailing siren to the silence. The button panel on the wall began to glow softly before Radacast’s eyes. Soon after, the small lights in the roof began to emanate the dimmest of glows.
She smiled and pushed herself to her feet, her eyes narrowed and flicking between lobby button and the furiously cranking Arbite. Something rounded the corner at the end of the corridor. The Arbite shot it dead. The button pinged as the power requirement to reach the bottom was achieved. The Arbite turned.
Radacast smiled and pressed the button, chuckling as the doors slid closed with a shutter and a squeal of metal on rusted metal.
The Arbite covered the distance at a sprint, reaching out his hand to stop the closing door. Closing on your life, my young Arbite. Radacast leaned a little sideways to make sure the man’s desperate eyes saw her widening grin of pleasure.
On the opposite side of the door to the buttons, a small vox speaker crackled.
“That you comin’ down boss?” came a voice as thick with stupidity as the wielder was likely to be with muscle.
Reaching out with her good hand to click the vox from receive to send, she replied, with a certain relish that only winning yet another victory over the Arbites brought.
“Set melta-charges on the main supports. Get our people out of the adjoining stacks. No-one, and nothing, gets out but me. We’re bringing this place down.”
She kept the button pressed, and thought for a moment.
“And for the love of the Emperor, someone make sure there is a fresh suit, a medicae, and a glass of amasec waiting for me when I get down there.”
Victory was always sweeter with amasec. Goodbye my young Arbite. A true pity your handsome head shall never grace my trophy wall.
She took a deep breath. Now what the frag were those beasts?
* * *
Shoulda seen that comin’.
The sound of more footsteps turned him around. Thale pointed his gun back down the hallway and blasted three more silver-eyed youths from their feet. Then his gun clicked dry.
Desperately, he searched around for an exit. He rushed into a cramped apartment and found nothing, even the windows had been boarded up with steel sheet.
He ducked back out into the corridor. Impossibly, the end of the hall seemed to become even darker as he stared at it. Behind him, the cables inside the elevator shaft rattled and twanged with vigour as Radacast made her way to safety. A swiftly intensifying sense of dread began to make its way over him as something walked out into the darkness before him.
A swift pounding began at the base of his skull as more details began to coalesce from the shadows. Images began to flicker before his eyes: flesh and worlds, equally consumed by a never-ending hunger. He felt something pull at his mind, and perhaps his soul, tugging and probing with ethereal clawed hands and tendrils, testing and coaxing him with alien emotions and feelings of – belonging? His eyes began to burn as, step by ponderous step, the bloated creature made its way towards him.
Arm shaking, as if it fought his efforts to raise it, Thale lifted the gun, allowing the finger-torch to shine. His jaw dropped in horror as he saw it. A huge head leered, sword-like teeth revealed in a rictus grin, eyes slamming into him. Before he could react, he lost control of his arm and the Trantor clattered to the ground beside him. The creature raised an open hand to him, and Thale felt the fear melt away as it began to work its psychic tendrils through. Around them, emergency lights began to glow softly in the hallway.
More images played over his mind’s eye. He watched nonchalantly.
Vast leviathans above the planet, long streams of creatures bursting from beneath mothering wings.
Huge spores crashing to the ground in his precinct.
Vicious creatures running through the streets consuming everything.
Food everywhere. Lerrunhive providing a wonderful feast of biomatter.
He could taste the blood and the meat. He could feel the joy of the mind that he shared with all as new DNA strands and understandings of how to hunt and kill and feast swelled from the billion-billion pieces of himself that came for this meal.
Thale blinked as something touched his face. A claw trailed down his cheek, drawing a little blood like the gossamer kiss of a surgical scalpel.
The creature was right before him, terrible quicksilver and black eyes gleaming their ravenous hunger. Thale felt his lip twist up into a grin. His knees gave out and he fell to the ground, his stare never leaving the hypnotising eyes of the creature lording over him. Alien emotions and images continued to flitter through his mind behind the all-encompassing face above him.
The clawed hand slowly reached for him once more, splayed wide to cover his face, those black eyes still holding him through the gaps between fingers. Almost completely unnoticed to his entranced mind, he heard the pop and crackle of a vox speaker coming to life.
“My young Arbite, immediately after trying to kill me, you saved my life more than once. If you are still alive, you have five minutes to exit the building. Let it not be said that I am a woman to leave a debt unpaid. The Emperor protects.”
The word swirled through his mind like a combat team trying to clear a hab block. Memories of hard-edged buildings, rock-like bunk mattresses, roaring combat masters and drill sergeants flayed him painfully. The reassurance of pulling the stock of a lasgun to his shoulder beside his squad-mates cleansed images of consuming flesh. A golden eagle screeched and then swooped to shred and tear at withered purple and pink flesh and sinew, dodging flailing black claws. A bayonet was driven into the ground to keep a lasrifle upright, the remembrance clenching his throat. Placing a blood-speckled helm upon that lasgun’s butt pushed out a wet sob.
Finally a figure in the black and gold armour of an Arbite Judge stood before him, disapproval written across his features.
My son. You cannot stay. I… we, have a duty to the Emperor. We must deliver on that duty, by any means necessary.
Thale could feel a tear roll down his face.
Your shuttle leaves for orbit in fifteen minutes. We won’t see each other again.
Father, I’ll not be an Arbite. I’ve watched my friends die in battle already. I’ve buried so many of them, fighting against the Great Devourer. I’ve had five years of it. Five years of –
You’ll be an Arbite. I didn’t spend four year’s salary bribing half the traders between here and whatever hell-hole I dug you out of for you to come back here and be some drunkard the Enforcers drop on my doorstep every second night.
I cannot watch my brothers in arms die like that again.
The image of his father frowned harder, took a deep breath, and reached out to put an ethereal hand on his shoulder.
No. You’ll not have brothers in arms. You will be the Mortiurge.
A Mortiurge: a man of blood, a killer in the darkness, Lerrunhive’s dark shadow; the only golden light, that of the Emperor held within the bastions of your soul.
A long silence followed: words unspoken, or unable to be spoken, staying within father and son. Goodbye, father.
The Emperor protects.
Thale blinked the fog from his mind. The creature above leant in. Thale licked his lips, clenched his jaw, and drove his fist up, knife-punching the beast in the throat. It was like hitting a solid brick wall. Faster than his eye could track, the monster whipped out a thick, sinewy arm and sent him flying through the service elevator door and into the shaft.
His hands desperately scrabbled to hold onto the thick cable, fighting the gluggy grease layered upon it, frantically trying to arrest his slide as slithers of steel slid into his palms. Thale cried out in effort and agony as he watched a long piece of rusted metal, only a few hairs thick, slip out through the top of his hand, carrying the red sheen of his blood in the dull flicker of emergency maintenance lighting.
He’d dropped almost three floors before his grip became tight enough to stop himself. Thale wrapped his body and arm around the cable, locking himself in place. Agonisingly, he released his grip and used his teeth to pull out the metre-long splinter of steel from his hand. With his hand free, he ripped off his shirt and body armour and wrapped it around the cable.
A body flew soundlessly past him, hand smacking against Thale’s leg, but finding no purchase. It was gone into the dark in a moment. Thale looked up, and flinched just in time as another, calm-faced body flew past, failing to grab him but nearly knocking him free as he slid another floor down. He looked up once more. Dark eyes on a bestial face glared at him from the dark above.
Thale looked back, and smiled.
“Come get me, you bastard,” he grunted, making half of the aquila sign across his chest, before grabbing on, setting himself, and beginning his slide down.
Using the thick soles of his combat boots to keep his slide controlled, he rocketed down, his hands, legs, and feet burning with friction. More bodies sailed past him, most missing him all together, twisting back to look up at him as they plummeted to their deaths, arms reaching back up for him with clawed fingertips.
Thale tried to work out how long he had left and how many floors he still had to go.
Two minutes, at best.
A couple of hundred floors, at worst.
He released his grip just a little bit further, grimacing at the smell of his shoes and flesh burning.
Finally, he saw dim yellow lights atop the roof of the elevator below him. He could see where ten or fifteen bodies had smashed through the roof and lay on the floor within. Drawing on his last remaining reserves of strength, he tried to tighten his grip on the cable. The burning intensified like he’d wrapped his body around a freshly used flamer nozzle. The top of the lift sped towards him mercilessly. Thale screamed as he pushed his feet together harder, squeezed with his thighs, and gripped his hands against the last remaining shreds of his shirt and body armour between his searing palms and the greased cable.
Thale crashed through the remnants of roof, slamming into a pile of bodies. Blood erupted in a wet slap of viscera against the elevator walls. He felt some of his ribs give and snap. Thale blacked out for a moment.
He groaned and tried to move. He stopped and groaned again, trying to remember where he was.
Up. Up. Gotta get up.
Thale forced himself into a crouch, his dark vision screaming in agony against the bright lights of the lobby. He took a step, and collapsed.
Get up, you weak bastard. Get up.
He was up again, taking one wobbly step after another. Then he was stumbling and running, tripping and slipping, leering off balance one way and then the other as he made a mad dash for the front doors and threw himself out onto the street.
He lay face down on the pavement, relief washing through him. Feet pounded over to him and big hands grabbed him roughly under the armpits and dragged him across the ground. There was a series of loud explosions. Blistering heat washed over him and slammed him into the ground. The hands under his armpits were torn away and he heard someone scream as they hit the ground.
Thale rolled onto his back, his eyes wide in shock as the full eight-hundred storeys of the hab block began to slowly, almost majestically, make their way down, smoke and dust billowing out towards him. Thale closed his eyes, too exhausted to move.
The Emperor protects.
Big hands grabbed him once more and he was pulled in through a doorway, the heavy wood slamming shut before the cloud enveloped the outside world. There was darkness for a moment. The sounds of ragged and excited breaths filled the blackness. Then the lights came on.
Radacast squatted before him, broken arm bandaged and in a sling.
“My young Arbite. It would seem that you are in my debt. My men have just saved your life, although you did do a rather admirable job up until that point.”
Thale held his tongue, taking in his surroundings. Radacast had about thirty hard-bitten heavies around her. They weren’t street-level gangers, these heavies. Some bore Guard tatts from five or six different regiments he knew of, others wielded expensive augmetics. One of them, an immense brute, jaw shuddering with some stimm or other, had a ridiculously oversized boltgun across his broad chest.
Radacast smiled. Thale tried to remain stoic, but knew his death would be but moments away.
“Unfortunately, you have now outlived your usefulness, young Arbite. This is where we part ways.”
Outside a siren began to wail.
“Enforcers,” grunted the heavy with the boltgun, his voice like rocks grinding.
Thale shook his head.
“No, that’s the call for the PDF to assemble.”
Radacast frowned. “The PDF? For a collapsed hab block in a run-down area nobody cares about?”
Thale shook his head, coughing. “No. For those beasts.”
Radacast stood, triumph written across her features. “Then, the Imperium already has its victory, thanks to none other –“
A loud whine and a crash of sound outside quickly receded into the distance. Then another. And another. Singular ear-piercing cracks quickly became a torrent of deafening noise.
Thale shook his head. “No, it has only just begun,” he shouted.
“How can you know?” screamed Radacast, leaning in to be heard.
“I’ve fought them before.”
Radacast leered. “Well, my young Arbite. It would seem you’ve become useful once more. He comes with us.”
The precinct vox speaker system opened up and a harsh voice began barking orders for martial law. The staccato flicker of surface to orbit defence lasers pierced the dust cloud to sting the eyes and leave lasting after images etched in Thale’s vision.
Radacast led her men out back into the streets, ornate laspistol by her side. They moved through the backstreets, shooing street dwellers out of the way brutally. Some were mercilessly gunned down as they begged for food or money. People were scared; Thale could feel it in the air. He could see PDF reserves still dressing themselves, lugging kit bags, sprinting towards the barracks.
Heavily shepherded by Radacast’s bodyguards around him, Thale’s heart began to hammer in fear as they rounded a street corner, directly into a riot. Bricks flew and smashed through shop windows. People streamed in after and ran out, goods in hand. Shopkeepers fired into the crowd indiscriminately with stub pistols and rifles. Bodies littered the ground; some moved in agony, most didn’t.
Radacast pointed towards an adjoining street. “That way.”
They moved warily, guns up and covering all directions. They almost walked right into the shield wall and gaping combat shotgun muzzles of an Enforcer riot squad. Three Arbites stood behind them, guns levelled.
“Drop your weapons!” boomed the lead Arbite.
Radacast’s men tried to spread and find cover. Thale didn’t bother moving. The Enforcers and Arbites had the lot of them in an undisrupted field of fire with no escape but to turn, run, and hope one of the heavily trained and armed men and women behind them had on off day on the range.
“Drop them! Drop them, now!”
Thale looked at the hard glares of the criminals around him. White-knuckled fingers gripped triggers. Eyes were wide with fear and excitement. Radacast moved behind one of her bulkier men. The situation was about to explode.
Thale shook off the hands holding him and brushed through the crowd to stand before the Arbites.
“Are you in charge of these men? Tell them to drop their guns now! You have five seconds to comply!” roared an Arbite.
Thale held up his hands.
“I am Thale Rook; Mortiurge of precinct five-one-four, six-west, Lerrunhive. Who is in command here?”
“I’ve got three guns on your back if you try anything funny,” hissed Radacast.
“I am Judge Onex. I command here,” boomed the voice of an immense Arbite Judge.
“Do you recognise me, brother?” The word almost caused his mouth to bleed.
The Judge sneered. “I recognise you. Though you look to have fallen from your father’s pedestal and in with the muck, where killers for hire – like you – belong.”
Thale smiled, and pointed to the sky. Through the pollution fog and the constant flickering of defence lasers, he could see the purple and pink flowing organically against the starry black of the void above.
“The devourers of worlds are here, my brothers! Lerrunhive’s going to need every killer in her arsenal.”
Edited by Logen Ninefingers, 23 January 2014 - 08:04 PM.